Sunday, July 10, 2011

Surprise Cakes

This recipe was third in a series of a baking frenzy. I'm sure my family was wondering what was wrong with me (though they didn't complain), but I had good reasons for all the baking. The reason to make this recipe was a tea party at my aunt's house.

My aunt is in her 80s but doesn't look a day over 70 and is the most charming and gracious person you'll meet. We were lucky enough to get to see her and my three cousins and their children at an impromptu tea party that turned into a cocktail party out on her patio. Her house was once my grandmother's house, so we all share a lot of great memories of family gatherings there.

Maida says that these little cakes are perfect for a tea party, and she's right. They're kind of fussy to make, with a crust and a filling and a topping, but they're not difficult.

I had fun with the fillings: I tried two different kinds of jam, and also tried candied ginger and chocolate chips. I think everyone at the party enjoyed the surprise of not knowing what filling they'd get, and since these are small, many were sampled.

There were scones and cake and finger sandwiches and many delicious things at the tea party, but these cakes were the first to completely disappear. My cousin's husband, Bob, was especially fond of them: "What's in these? Butter, right?" That should not be a surprise.

Here's the recipe. Make them for a tea party or just if you want to create something surprisingly delicious.

Surprise Cakes

3/4 c. (3.75 oz.) unsifted flour (I used some whole wheat)
Pinch salt
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 c. (1.75 oz.) sugar
1/4 c. (2 oz.) cold butter
1 egg yolk
1/4 t. vanilla
2 T. (1 oz.) milk

[Note: I cut the ingredients here in half because I had more than twice the dough I needed.] In a medium to large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Cut in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs, then stir in the egg, vanilla, and milk. Mix just until the mixture holds together. Wrap in plastic or waxed paper and refrigerate at least an hour.
When you're ready to bake, heat the oven to 425 and butter 24 mini-muffin cups. Cut the dough in half and work with one half at a time, letting the other half wait in the fridge. Roll out the dough to 1/3 inch thick, then cut into 1-1/2 inch circles. You should get 12 circles from each half of the dough. Place a round of dough in each muffin cup, pressing to make a little cup. Maida says not to worry if they're not perfect. (Because she said this, I just rolled the dough into little balls and pressed them into the cups. Worked like a charm.) Now you can fill them:

1/3 c. (about 3.5 oz.) jam or jelly of your choice--Maida recommends currant jelly or orange marmalade; I used blackberry and apricot jam, candied ginger, and chocolate chips
24 walnut halves or a few spoons of finely chopped walnuts

On each round of dough place about 1/2 t. of jam/jelly and a sprinkling of walnuts or a walnut half. Let that wait while you make the top layer.

1/4 c. (2 oz.) butter, room temperature
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 c. (1.75 oz.) sugar
Scant 1/4 t. almond extract
1 large egg
2 T. (0.6 oz.) flour

In the small bowl of an electric mixer (a hand mixer is probably fine for this), beat the butter and baking powder until fluffy. Add the sugar and almond extract and beat another minute. Add the egg and beat for another minute. Add the flour and beat at low speed until smooth.
Put a teaspoonful of batter in each muffin cup. Be conservative--Maida says there's just enough for all 24 cakes.
Bake the pans side by side for 13-15 minutes. They will be golden with darker rims and the tops will spring back when pressed.
Cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then carefully unmold the cakes onto a rack and turn them right side up.

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